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Proper Ice Axe length for a 6'5" tall?
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By randy88fj62
Mar 15, 2012
Thunderbolt Peak in the Palisades

I am looking to upgrade my old ice axe and get a lighter one. The current one I’ve been using for over 10 years is from REI and it’s heavy. I love it to death but it’s time to start looking for something that I can carry into alpine territory. Its main use will be for crossing steep snowfields in the Sierra. I just started ice climbing and I have ice tools so a super technical one is not necessary.

QUESTION:
I am 6’5” tall and all ice axes I have been reading up on “seem” to be too short for me. I’m used to my REI one which is super long and classified as a “mountain axe.” What length ice axe do tall people use and what brands carry taller ice axes for us bean stalks? What length should a 6’5” person be using?

I have also seen trekking poles with ice axe heads on them. Is this some fad for trekkers or do any serious backpacking alpine mountaineers use these? It looks like you could hike in with the little trekking pole axe and then switch to your ice tools when it gets really steep. Any mountaineers use these? Anyone have experience or know of anyone who likes / dislikes them?


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By Dave Bn
From Fort Collins, CO
Mar 15, 2012
Dreamweaver

The trekking poles with picks are called "whippets" they're primarily for back country skiing and are irreplaceable in that regard. They might serve some function in other arenas, but I don't see the point.

While holding the axe in your hand at the confluence of the pick and adze with the spike hanging down, the spike should touch your ankle bone.

www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/ice+axe.html

This is great for glacier axes where you'll be leaning on them constantly. For doing steep couloirs in the Sierras or elsewhere (with no glacier travel) a shorter axe is much easier to pull and plunge on steeper terrain.


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By Jason Halladay
Administrator
From Los Alamos, NM
Mar 15, 2012
Climbing at the Belvedere crag near Nago with a great view of the northern end of Lake Garda and the town of Torbole sul Garda below. June 2013.

randy88fj62, I think it's primarily a matter of personal preference. I'm 6'5" and when I first got more serious about alpine pursuits 15 years ago, I read the advice of others and started rocking an 80cm mountain ax. That turned out to be lame. Sure it was nice on gentle glaciers but the extra length was ridiculous for plunging the shaft on steeper terrain. I've only used 65cm axes since then. FWIW, I'm a big fan of the Black Diamond Raven Pro ice ax.


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By Stich
From Colorado Springs, Colorado
Mar 15, 2012
Coffee after freezing our asses off near James Peak.

A mountaineering guide by the name of Andy I know used to answer this question more in terms of what your preference is. If you have ever gone out with a really short axe, you know that it's easy to pack and deal with and works fine for steep routes and in firm snow where the axe doesn't need to plunge that deep for self-belays. For soft snow and lower angle ice, a longer axe would work better. There's no real "wrong" axe length.

So what did you think about the length of your old axe?


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By randy88fj62
Mar 15, 2012
Thunderbolt Peak in the Palisades

The length of my current "old" axe is pretty good. I'd love to find another axe of the same length but new and made with a lighter tube. I could go a little shorter but I haven't found one close to the length of my old one. Seems all newer axes are for "technical" mountaineering and no one offers longer ones. The closest I have found is petzl's classic one which is 66cm max.


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By Ben Beckerich
From saint helens, oregon
Mar 16, 2012
About half way up the East Arete on Illumination Rock

Seeing lots of ice ax questions getting posted up on the boards lately. Could it be....? SPRING IS NEAR?

I don't mean anything by it.. in fact, post all the ice ax questions you want- I'm getting extremely impatient for better weather, and glimmers of hope reinvigorate the soul.

---

As to the question..... I'm still a relative noob myself, and have been crash-coursing this shit with a lot of climbing in a short period of time. So take the opinions of the likes of me with a grain of salt. But it's been my determination that trekking poles are indispensable, and ice axes must be short. I trek my poles till I need the ax to make upward progress, then I cache or stow the poles, pull the ax, and start the real climbing. So this means I never have my ax out before I get to 45-55* (and I've been known to keep the poles out up to 60+, for good snow), and a long ax is utterly useless, regardless of the climber's height. I really think 55-60cm is pretty much all anybody needs, in conjunction with poles.

Good luck


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By superkick
From West Hartford, CT
Mar 16, 2012
Free Solo up hitchcock gully WI3

Many serious and professional mountaineers use the black diamond whippet for self arrest / glacier treavel purposes instead of a mountaineering axe. Colin Haley rocks one to name somebody.

Also black diamond definitaly makes the raven in 70cm legnth


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By Andrew Gram
Administrator
From Salt Lake City, UT
Mar 16, 2012
Andrew Gram

Ben B - might want to rethink that strategy as it'll get you killed if you are roped up and someone falls into a crevasse in low angle terrain. The only times I have ever needed to self arrest has been on less than 20 degree terrain when a partner punched through a hidden crevasse.

Whippets are great and I use them all the time, but practice with them a lot. Self arresting is much more difficult and requires different technique than self arresting with an ax. Probably more useful for halting a quick slip or loss of an edge while skiing than a full on yard sale fall down a steep slope. I would not want to try to catch a crevasse fall with loaded packs using whippets.


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By David Hertel
From Sitka
Mar 19, 2012
Climbing a coulior of steep snow on the First Ascent of: The Ship's Prow, near Skagway, Ak

I'm not quite as tall as you are, but I have a 75cm, Austrialpine mountain (straight) axe. I think it's the simple 1 model from a couple years back. since using it, I'm not too sure I like other axes I've tried as much.
Just my 2 cents
Cheers!


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By Keenan Waeschle
From Bozeman, MT
Mar 19, 2012
on top of the RNWF <br />June 2012

I'm 6'6" and before I sold it used a 75 cm ax. Now I use a single bd venom (it's either 50 or 57 cm, I can't remember which, but my gut says 50 cm) with a trekking poles whenever I go on glacier slogs. for steep parts I switch one of the poles out for the ax and gentile stuff I just use both poles, if there's crevasse danger though the ax stays out, I can stop myself in a slide with a trekking pole but I'm not so sure about stopping someone of the other end of a rope. Never actually had to stop someone who punched through though yet so who knows.

Being a giant I find I have much more trouble finding jackets that fit me, broad shoulders and long arms but I don't have a massive gut.


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By randy88fj62
Mar 20, 2012
Thunderbolt Peak in the Palisades

Thanks everyone for the feedback. Looks like a standard length ice axe should fit the bill for steeper snow travel in the Sierra.

Keenan,
I feel your pain with finding clothes. I can never find long enough technical pants or jackets cheap.


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By Scott McMahon
From Boulder, CO
Apr 23, 2012
Bocan

I LOVE going to the cinema with a nice asian escort.


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By randy88fj62
Jan 31, 2013
Thunderbolt Peak in the Palisades

Wanted to follow up on where I ended up. I bought a Petzl Sum Tec and now have no trouble rocking the short ice axe. It's light and working well. I don't think I'll ever go back to a long axe unless crossing flat glaciers.


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By IamDman
Feb 6, 2013
avatar

good to know that the shorter axe works for bigger guys, I run with some big guys who are getting more into mountaineering and are gonna have to be getting this type of gear soon. Im only 6'1" so I wouldn't know what to recommend to them.


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